Lenten Hymns and Their Story

February 27, 2023

“Christ the Life of All the Living”

This text by Ernst Christoph Homburg [1607-91] was published in 1659 in a collection of his hymns. It reflects his deep personal faith spawned by his conversion from an increasingly secular world. With this hymn, and it’s extended meditation on the Lord’s suffering, one may too easily miss the declaration of the hymn’s first line of Jesus as the source of life itself. “The life of all the living” recalls especially John the evangelist’s words, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” [John 1:4].
The first verse has in view the suffering and death of Christ on the cross as the vicarious atonement by which we receive eternal life. The repeated expression of thanksgiving to God recalls St. Paul’s conclusion of praise in the face of the power of death.
Verse 2 recalls the beatings and lashes Christ endured, accompanied by the mocking of the soldiers, all in fulfillment of prophecies such as Isaiah 50:6 , “I gave My back to those who strike, and My cheeks to those who pull out the beard; I his not My face from disgrace and spitting.”
Verse 3describes our Lord’s suffering as “sad and lonely”, recalling the disciples’ fleeing from the scene. In His great passion, Christ no only endured rejection by man, but also the curse of God [Galatians 3:13].
Verse 4 recalls the scoffing and mocking and the crown of thorns. Christ endured all the disgrace in order to redeem, that is, to purchase and set free, all of humanity [Matthew 20:28].
Verse 5, reminds us that He was before the High Priest and the council as He was falsely accused in fulfillment of prophecy of Psalm 27:12, “give me not up to the will of My adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against Me, and they breathe out violence.”
The phrase “even death by crucifixion” in verse six recalls Paul’s famous passage in Philippians 2:8 – “and being found in human form, he humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”
Finally, all the “sorrows deep and sore,” His “anguish in the garden,” ,all His “groaning, sighing, bleeding, dying” are summarized. Only the, in verse seven, does the repeated refrain of thanksgiving give way to the climax of “that last triumphant cry,” “it is finished” [John 19:30]. Thanks be to God.

Christ, the Life of all the living, Christ, the death of death, our foe,
Who, Thyself for me once giving to the darkest depths of woe:
Through thy suff’rings, death, and merit I eternal life inherit.
Thousand, thousand thanks shall be, dearest Jesus, unto Thee.

LSB 420

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